The story goes that in the middle 1950s, Edward Durell Stone had something of a mid-life crisis. He married his second wife—an Italian woman whom he proposed to on a transatlantic flight—traveled the world, and returned a changed man with completely different ideas about architecture. Gone was his rigid adherence to the doctrines of the International Style. Present was a renewed appreciation of historic forms and his early Beaux-Arts training.
One of the typologies that fascinated Stone in this period, which he picked up from time he spent in Southeast Asia, was the courtyard building. He designed several, including the widely appreciated Stanford Medical Center. The largest of these constructions is the uptown campus of the State University of New York at Albany, which is three stories high and nearly a half-kilometer long. Known simply as the “Podium,” Stone’s monolithic campus has an undeniably refined elegance and beauty—its single-height flat roof supported atop a symmetrical array of impossibly thin concrete columns. The courtyards themselves, however, which are meant to be peaceful retreats full of verdant growth and rippling water, don’t fare very well in the region’s brutally cold winters.
Climactically appropriate or no, Stone’s building sets a hefty precedent to follow, as Perkins + Will discovered when the university hired the firm to design an addition to the Podium. Located on a former parking lot flanking the campus’ grand entrance, the new building provides classrooms and facilities for the school of business and acts as a de facto gateway to the rest of the school, connecting to a network of underground passages that allows students to avoid the chill when moving between classes.
Perkins + Will based their design on the Podium’s rectilinear formality and vertical, precast concrete detailing, updating the Stone building’s distinctly mid-century vernacular with some 21st century touches. The 94,000-square-foot building is rectangular in plan and its siting maintains the campus’ Cartesian order. The architects drew on the idea of the courtyard, using it metaphorically in the form of a series of staggered, daylight-filled, enclosed public spaces that flow together within the building.
On the ground floor, the “courtyard” is oriented to the northeast corner of the plan and expressed as a double-height lobby with a triple-glazed mullion wall. Students entering can either descend directly to the lower level to access the rest of the university, or filter into the business school spaces. The program is stacked in a hierarchy of public to private functions. The lower level opens onto terraced outdoor courtyard and features general classrooms, a cafe, and access to the campus connector. On the ground floor, in addition to the lobby, is a mock trading room and a series of business school outreach components—storefront like spaces where students set up small businesses. Upstairs is the core of the business school itself, which is more private, without the rank and file of the student body passing through. Here, the courtyard shifts to the center of the building and is topped by a butterfly skylight whose geometry was calculated to optimize daylight, reducing east-west exposure to minimize glare, letting in a controlled amount of southern light, and opening up to indirect northern light.
For the facade, Perkins + Will took its cues from Stone’s vertical, precast concrete detailing. The Podium’s walls feature concrete verticals on two-foot centers. Finding that to be too confining, the architects spread the concrete fins out more on the new building opening up larger apertures for a simple ribbon window system. The fins are angled to block low-angle glare while bouncing as much daylight as possible into the interior. Albany is one of the most overcast American cities east of Seattle, so much of the daylight strategy for the building involved maximizing penetration as opposed to shading. The concrete itself is made with self-cleaning photocatalytic cement, which contains particles of titanium dioxide. When sunlight hits the surface, it interacts with the titanium and breaks down organic and some inorganic pollutants, allowing rain to then wash the smog away and keeping the concrete clean and bright.
The new school of business is currently under construction and is scheduled for completion in August so that it will be ready for classes to begin in September. The project is seeking a LEED Gold rating.